Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Holiness Of Hospitality

Hebrews 13:2 Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.

The book of Hebrews is a master class in learning how the Old Testament was fulfilled by Jesus Christ and what this New Testament, this New Covenant, is all about. Here, in Hebrews 13, the author calls upon us to not neglect hospitality and reminds us, most likely, of the Old Testament encounter of Abraham entertaining angels without knowing it. Through this encounter we realize that hospitality is a reflection of our hearts. So what does that mean for us today?

There is a difference between showing hospitality to someone because you want to be known as a nice person and showing hospitality because you believe by doing so you are being obedient to God’s command and showing His love. It’s a subtle difference but it is key.   It is quite likely that being friendly and welcoming strangers will boost your reputation  and may lead to future rewards or "paybacks" but if that is your goal then you are not showing true hospitality.  Hospitality is focused on our love of others because of our love of God, it is not motivated out of personal gain.

Our Hospitality reflects our understanding of the gospel.  It is a good yardstick of where we are at in our walk with Christ. It should be fundamental to our identity.
As Pastor Mike Leake says; If we’ve messed up hospitality it is because in some way we have missed the gospel. We see this in the story of Simon the Pharisee. He was a terrible host and Jesus tells us why, “...he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:36-50). Our hospitality reflects our grasp of the gospel. This is why Hebrews 13:2 appears where it does. Everything we are commanded to do in chapter 13 flows out of the work Christ has already done in chapters 1-12. Including this command to show hospitality.
The early Christian's faced intense persecution, first from their surrounding culture and then from the state.  It was always a temptation for us to not show kindness to others when we are not being shown kindness ourselves, but that is when it is often most necessary. That is why the author of Hebrews took this time to stress the importance of hospitality.

He is reminding us again of the fact that throughout the Bible, God’s people are portrayed as sojourners.  We are just temporary residents of this world, people who are passing through on our way home. He knew his listeners would be more likely to give up the faith if they forgot they were not alone.  If they forgot that even the people who were making their lives miserable were loved by God.  If they forgot that God could use their suffering, and the love they show in the midst of it, to help others discover Him and His amazing grace.

When we have grown too comfortable in our pews we forget the discomfort people feel when they take their first step into church. When we have become so self-sufficient in our homes, we forget that our neighbors are real people with real needs and made in God’s image.  When we stop practicing hospitality, then we stop practicing the gospel itself.

Ask yourself: How have you shown hospitality to others in the past week and why did you do so? Maybe hospitality doesn't come easy to you but the same power of the Holy Spirit that is driving you towards holiness will also enable you to show hospitality. In fact the two are deeply connected because hospitality is a matter of holiness.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

What Makes Us stick Together?

Colossians 3:14 Above all, put on love —the perfect bond of unity.

What is it that should make the church stick together?  What is it that binds us with one another?   Are we held together only by tradition, or familiarity or is there something greater we can depend on?

What does bond mean? Webster’s defines the word bond as a thing used to tie something or to fasten things together. Have you ever watched kids try to stick things together. First they just hold them next to each other and push hard. They expect that when they let go it will just stick together, but what happens when they let go? It just falls apart, right? Then begins the great kid adventure of trying to find the stuff to make them stick, to bond them. If you look around a child’s room, you will find things held together by play-doh, silly string, spit! All of these will hold for a little while but none of them will hold forever.

In the same way we see many attempts of bringing people together and bonding throughout culture. 
Around the world we find many approaches to peace, harmony and unity.  The new age movement says we can chant our way there, politicians say we can force our way there, and Madison Avenue says we can just buy everyone a Coke and teach the world to sing. We try many ways to accomplish this peace and unity and they all fail because we leave out the only thing, the only One who can actually do it. God.

God is the One who has made each of us a unique individual. He created us with our own personalities and backgrounds and He is the one who has brought us together into one body, the church. We should not throw away this diversity that God has created but embrace it. It is through Him that all these different people, with their weird edges and designs fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to make the beautiful picture that He is painting.

It would be a mistake to think that we can just put a bunch of different people together in a room, throw a worship song up on the screen and BAM! We would have an instant bond. As a church we must be held together by something stronger. A tighter bond - the bond of love. This is the bond of God the Father to God the Son, From God the Son to His bride the church. This is the bond that must hold each of us together in unity.

A bond that is willing to look past petty differences.  A bond that is willing to forgive even when we don’t feel like it.   A bond of love that reflects our unity with and in Jesus Christ.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Monday, September 3, 2018

Love Limits Liberty

Love Limits Liberty
1st Corinthians 10:23-24 “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person. [HCSB]

What is Christian Liberty. We talk about having liberty in Christ, about how where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. These are all very true statements but what do they mean?

In essence, liberty is freedom from oppression. Throughout the New testament we see that through Christ we are free from the law, free from the frustration of our fallen nature’s inability to keep God’s law, but we are not free from God’s standards.

In other words I can not punch you in the face and then say “I am free in Christ!” Liberty is not saying I can continue to do things that harm myself or my marriage or my children or my community and excuse it with the name of Christ.

"Contrary to popular opinion, freedom is not the ability to do whatever one desires. This inevitably leads to enslavement to our own passions. Rather, the Bible defines freedom as the ability to deny one’s self, to deny one’s desires in the interest of pleasing and glorifying God." ~ Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

If you look at our liberty as being free to glorify God then all of sudden you see we are honestly being held to an even higher standard. That’s what Paul is getting to here in his letter to the church at Corinth, when he says “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person. All of a sudden we realize our liberty is not just about not doing wrong, it is about building up our brothers.

A good example of this in our culture today would be alcohol. No where in the Bible does it say that merely drinking alcohol is a sin, but there are many places in the Bible where it warns us against drinking too much. The Bible paints a picture where not only is drunkenness a sin but letting alcohol get in the way of your relationship with others and with God is a sin, however, having a drink with dinner or a beer with friends and keeping your consumption moderate and within boundaries is not a sin.

BUT still I choose not to drink alcohol at all. Period. I do not drink at home, I do not drink away from home. I do not drink in Cleveland, in Charleston or in Timbuktu no matter where I am at or the situation, I do not consume alcohol. Why? I just explained that it is not sinful to drink in moderation so why do I abstain? Liberty.

If I am ministering to a recovering alcoholic and they see me drinking, even in moderation, then I have given the devil a weapon they can use against them. They may think “Hey the Pastor drinks so I can too and before you know it they are back in the chains of addiction. What if one of our children or youth hear me talk about having a drink and then decide it’s okay for them to follow my example, but they don't realize how dangerous it is to drink and get behind the wheel? Who would be responsible for their actions? Of course they are held accountable for their own choices but I would share the blame.

In my liberty I choose to deny myself so that I will not lead others astray, even accidentally. It is not always about being right or wrong it is about not being a stumbling block. In the sixties the band the Monkees had a hit song “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone”, but as Christians perhaps we should think more like “I’m Not Your Tripping Stone."  I am more than happy to be a stepping stone for you on your walk of faith that leads you closer to Christ. I do not want to be the stone you trip over on that walk.

What preferences or activities do you have in your personal life that may trip up someone else? What does this liberty to restrain ourselves look like when it comes to our church life? Well one thing that should become obvious within the church is that our liberty should not get in the way of our mission.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Truly Alive

Truly Alive

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. [HCSB]

Jesus spoke these words to Martha after her brother, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. She was questioning why this had to happen. Why did her brother have to die? What didn’t you do anything to stop it, Lord?

Those are questions that we all ask at some point in our life. Death was never part of God’s plan for us. Death is the result of sin entering into His perfect creation. Separation from Him was never part of His plan for us. That separation is only a result of the sin we have in our heart.

God did not intend for us to suffer and mourn and die and feel alone. God would have been perfectly justified, since we are the ones who caused this mess, to leave us to deal with it on our own. But He didn’t. God could run from situation to situation putting temporary band-aids on each problem, knowing full well the source of our troubles would still be left undealt with in our heart. But He didn’t. Instead, in a master stroke, He sent the one who could deal with the heart of the matter. The only one who could deal with our sin as well as the death and despair that it leads to.

With His words, Jesus was not only giving Martha promise for a future hope, but comfort in a present reality. When you trust in Jesus you have already moved from death to life. When you trust in Him, no matter what else may happen, you are truly alive now and forevermore. Shortly after speaking these words, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Not longer after, He Himself would be raised from the dead and all of our questions, all of our doubts, all of our worries would find their ultimate answer in Christ and in Christ alone.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Life Of Fellowship

A Life Of Fellowship

John 10:10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance. [HCSB]

An abundant life is not a life spent in isolation. It is not a life of loneliness it is a life of friendship and fellowship. Of undertaking this journey together. Fellowship, the relationships we form within the church and how we spend time with one another, is yet another tool God uses to transform us and reach the world. In order to have a strong fellowship with one another within the church we must be willing to let go of a few preferences, be willing to focus on Jesus, and be willing to work with one another.

This doesn’t mean we have to do everything the same or enjoy the same things. In fact it means that, within the boundaries of Christ’s love and the scriptures truth, we have room for a diverse group of individuals and fellowships within the church. All of which are united by their desire to know Christ more each and every day.

So what is this fellowship Christ was wanting for us?
FELLOWSHIP: Bond of common purpose and devotion that binds Christians to one another and to Christ. ~ Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary
It is that last phrase, to Christ, that is key to understanding fellowship and is what separates fellowship from simple friendship. Yes, you should be friends with your fellow believers as well and yes it is fine to have friendships, within reason, outside the church. But fellowship goes even deeper than friendship.

Fellowship, even more than mere friendship, goes beyond Good times. Look at how the word fellowship is used in the New Testament and you see it more likely to describe shared suffering as shared blessings. Fellowship is there both to celebrate the good and help shoulder the bad.

You can go to the ball game and have a hot dog with both your friend and your brother in Christ but you can confess your weaknesses, receive counsel, accountability and prayer from only your brother.

An old story is told about a preacher and a deacon went on a hiking trip together and after a long day of walking they made camp, ate a good meal and crawled into their tent to get some sleep. In the middle of the night the deacon wakes the preacher, points up to the sky and asks “What do you see?”

The preacher looks up and says “I see billions of beautiful stars, each placed perfectly in the sky.”

The deacon then asks “and what does that tell you?”

The preacher responds “It tells me that we serve a mighty God who has, in this vast universe, lovingly placed us at the perfect place to enjoy His wonderful creation.” Then he turned to the deacon and asked, what does it tell you?

The deacon responded “That someone has stolen our tent!”

It is good to have friends who are focused on the right things! We need that balance between the practical and the theological. Unfortunately we often let our fellowship focus first on the practical - the fun, the food, the physical needs - and throw in the theological as an afterthought or not at all. What a wasted opportunity!
"I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one." ~ John 17:22
In John 17:22, Jesus prays that we will be one, but let's not stop there, we must finish reading the sentence! He says that we be one as He and the Father are one. Our fellowship must be focused on Him first, each other second. That does not mean that every fellowship must be a worship service or a bible study. It does mean that every action we take together must be done in a way that encourages and strengthens one another. It is through our fellowship that we help one another with our burdens, celebrate with one another in our triumphs and gently but constantly point one another closer to Christ. That is the focus of our fellowship - no matter what activities our fellowship takes - to bring one another closer to Christ. In that way it is an active form of discipleship in our daily life.

We spoke last week about how our journey has a destination - heaven and that in many ways this life is a preparation for that homeland. Likewise our fellowship here is preparation for our eternal fellowship there. Both our fellowship with God and with each other.

We are going to spend eternity serving, praising and having fellowship together. Why not prepare for that now?

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Monday, February 19, 2018

Life As A Journey

Life As A journey

1st Peter 1:17 And if you address as Father the One who judges impartially based on each one’s work, you are to conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence. 18 For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. [HCSB]

The Apostle Peter wrote this first letter that bears his name to the Christians living in what is now Turkey. They were not living in the Holy Land. They were not living within easy reach of the church of Jerusalem or the large contingent of Christians in Rome. Many may have been refugees driven out by the hostility that was beginning to grow around them. They were isolated, scattered and as such would face the blunt of the coming persecution on their own.

In many ways they were a reflection of the Christian life we live today.

We too are temporary residents of this world, simply passing through on our journey home. However that does not mean that this journey is pointless or merely something to get through before we get home.  It is in fact a journey that is designed to draw you closer to God, closer to each other and prepare you for an eternity spent with Christ. It is sometimes tough, just as it was for the early Christians Peter was writing to, but it is also important and even vital to our growth as Christians.

One thing to remember is that it is a journey and not a wandering. We may not know where the next day will lead us but God does. In fact He has already given us a map (scripture), a compass (Holy Spirit) and a guide (Jesus Christ) to lead us and direct us. It is up to us, though, to persevere and see this journey through.
“Follow boldly in your Master’s steps, for He has made this rough journey before you. Better a brief warfare and eternal rest than false peace and everlasting torment.” ~ Alistair Begg
When I was in the Marines they emphasized that Marine is a title that must be earned. It is earned through the journey of boot camp and all of the grueling physical and mental challenges it entails. There are many times when that journey seems not worth it or even impossible but for those who persevere the title of Marine - and all the responsibility that goes with it - is waiting.

Our title - Christian - is one that is earned not by us but by Jesus Christ, by His perfect sacrifice and completed work on the Cross. It is one we are graciously given at the moment when we accept Christ’s wonderful free gift of Himself. However that doesn’t make our challenging journey meaningless. While our journey does not earn us our salvation or make us “more Christian” it does transform us. The journey is the method that God uses, through the Holy Spirit working within us, to transform us more into the image of Jesus and prepare us for our eternal home.

It is sometimes tough, and often we make it tougher than it needs to be, but by faithfully walking it we will not only be able to grow ourselves but be able to help others on their journey as well.

To discover more, visit www.http://oakgrovebaptistchurchtn.com/ 

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Life Of Influence

A Life Of Influence

1st Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt in a Christian family with Christian friends. It was understood that church was where we would be on Sundays and Wednesdays. If I stayed over at a friends house on Saturday night I knew I would be going with their family to church on Sunday morning and vice versa. Once I grew up and began to travel to different places I not only met people with different views and backgrounds than mine, I at times also became a minority.

There’s a book written several years back about the history of Saturday Night Live. Back in the eighties there was a female comedian on the show named Victoria Jackson. You may remember her, she was blonde with a high pitched voice and played the ukulele. In this book they ask the cast members to share their thoughts about their fellow performers. When they asked about Victoria Jackson the quote they picked to describe her was “She’s a born again Christian, she’s like from Mars, [we] never really got her.” (1)

She was a minority among her peers. I’ve been there. I have been the lone Christian in a group before and I've had the quizzical looks, the questions, and occasionally the self-conscious shyness, that go with it. I’ve been asked before “Why are you Christians so weird?” but I would much rather hear that question than hear “You Christians act no different than the rest of us.”

You see it is when we are “weird” or “different” that we have influence. That is when people notice that we’re following something that is opposite from what the world is following and maybe it is something worth following. When the world sees wholehearted commitment from the church to be different from the world then the world notices and wants to learn more. That is influence.

Here Paul tells the church to be steadfast and immovable. In the world today there is always a pull away from our faith. The world wants to desperately change us to look more like them but at the same time they are intrigued by why we do not look like them. If we hold to Paul’s advice and trust God for the outcome then we have the opportunity to influence the world and show them that following God is in fact different, and at times difficult, but it is also so worth it!

Be different!  Be weird!  Live a life of influence!

To discover more, visit www.http://oakgrovebaptistchurchtn.com/ 

References: (1) Live From New York! Location 6031, Tom Shales and James Miller